car sick

Car-free movement

The car-free movement is a broad, informal, emergent network of individuals and organisations including academics, anarchists, cyclists, transport planners, urban designers, and others brought together by a shared belief that cars are far too dominant in most modern cities. The goal of the movement is to create places where car use is greatly reduced or eliminated, to liberate road and parking space for public use and to rebuild compact and vibrant urban environments where most destinations are within easy reach by public transport, walking, or cycling.


Before the twentieth century, cities and towns were normally compact, containing narrow streets busy with human activity. In the twentieth century many of these settlements were adapted to accommodate the car with wider roads, more space allocated for car parking and lower population densities where up to 60% of the surface area was devoted to the automobile. Lower population densities led to urban sprawl with longer distances between places and traffic congestion which made the alternatives to the car both unattractive or impractical and created the conditions for more traffic and sprawl and the car system was "increasingly able to ‘drive’ out competitors, such as feet, bikes, buses and trains". This process led to changes in urban form and living patterns where it was virtually impossible for people to live without a car.

Some governments have responded to this emerging situation with policies and regulations aimed at reversing this trend by increasing urban densities, encouraging mixed use development, reducing the space allocated to the private car, and greater support to cycling, walking, and public transport. In addition to 'traditional' transport mode car sharing is seen to be an increasingly important element in the transport mix, where people can easily rent a car for a few hours rather than own one. The car-free movement has supported many of these recent changes but promotes much more radical change to our urban environments.

Urban design

Proponents of the car-free movement focus on both sustainable transportation options and on urban design, zoning, school placement policies, urban agriculture, telecommuting options, and housing developments that create proximity or access so that long distance transportation becomes less of a requirement of daily life.

New urbanism is an American urban design movement that arose in the early 1980s. Its goal was (and is) to reform all aspects of real estate development and urban planning, from urban retrofits to suburban infill. New urbanist neighborhoods are designed to contain a diverse range of housing and jobs, and to be walkable.

World Squares for all is a scheme to remove much of the traffic from major squares in London, including Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square

Car-free zones are area of a city or town where use of cars is prohibited or greatly restricted.

Living streets provide for the needs of car drivers, secondary to the needs of users of the street as a whole. They are designed to be shared by pedestrians, playing children, bicyclists, and low-speed motor vehicles.

Community bicycle programs provide bicycles within an urban environment for short term use. The first successful scheme was in the 1960s in Amsterdam and can now be found in many cities other cities with 20,000 bicycles introduced to Paris in 2007 in the Vélib' scheme.

Advocacy groups

The Environmental Transport Association was formed in 1990 to inform people of the impact that transport has on the environment. It inaugarated Green Transport Week in 1993 and within that Car-Free Day in 1997

The Campaign for Better Transport (formally known as Transport2000) was formed in 1972 in Britain to challenge proposed cuts in the British rail network and since then has promoted public transport solutions to our transport needs.

The New Mobility Agenda is an international initiative formed in 1988 that challenges car-based ideas and practices in the field of urban transport.

Car Free Walks is a UK based website encouraging walkers to use public transport to reach the start and end of walks, rather than using a car.

Activism groups

Road protests rose to prominence in the UK in the early 1990s in response to a major road building program both in urban communities and also rural areas.

Reclaim the Streets was formed in 1991 in London 'invaded' major roads, highway or freeway to stage a party. While this may obstruct the regular users of these spaces such as car drivers and public bus riders, the philosophy of RTS is that it is vehicle traffic, not pedestrians, who are causing the obstruction, and that by occupying the road they are in fact opening up public space.

Critical Mass rides emerged in 1992 in San Francisco where cyclists take to the streets en masse to dominate the traffic, using the slogan 'we are traffic'. The ride was founded with the idea of drawing attention to how unfriendly the city was to bicyclists.

The World Naked Bike Ride was born in 2001 in Spain with the first naked bike rides, which then emerged as the WNBR in 2004 a concept which rapidly spread through collaborations with many different activist groups and individuals around the world to promote bicycle transportation, renewable energy, recreation, walkable communities, and environmentally-responsible, sustainable solutions to living in the twenty first century.

Parking Days started in 2005 when REBAR, a collaborative group of creators, designers and activists based in San Francisco, transformed a metered parking spot into a small park complete with turf, seating, and shade and by 2007 there were 180 parks in 27 cities around the world.

Official events

Car Free Days are official events with the common goal of taking a fair number of cars off the streets of a city or some target area or neighborhood for all or part of a day, in order to give the people who live and work there a chance to consider how their city might look and work with a lot fewer cars. The first events were organised in Reykjavík (Iceland), Bath (UK) and La Rochelle (France) in 1995.

In town without my car! is an EU campaign and day every autumn (Northern Hemisphere) for an increased use of other vehicles than the car. It has since spread beyond the EU, and in 2004 more than 40 countries participate.

World Urbanism Day was founded in 1949 in Buenos Aires and is celebrated in more than 30 countries on four continents each November 8th.

Towards Carfree Cities is the annual conference of the World Carfree Network and provides a focal point for diverse aspects of the emerging global carfree movement. The conference is in Portland, Oregon, USA in 2008 (its first time in North America), and has also been in Istanbul, Turkey; Bogota, Colombia; Budapest, Hungary; Berlin, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; Timisoara, Romania; and Lyon, France. The conference series attempts to bridge the gap between many of the diverse people and organizations interested in reducing urban dependence on the automobile.


An extensive List of carfree places around the world is available; the subset here are illustrative of what can be achieved:

Copenhagen in Denmark has successfully transformed car parks into car-free public squares and car-dominated streets into carfree streets, over a 40-year period.

Freiburg Germany's best-known environmentally friendly neighborhood and a successful experiment in green urban living. The Vauban development - 2,000 new homes on a former military base 10 minutes by bike from the heart of Freiburg - has put into practice many ideas that were once dismissed as eco-fantasy but which are now moving to the center of public policy. Freiburg's policy for 'transport infrastructure that is friendly to people, the environment and the city' was approved in 1969 and many pioneering and successful initiatives have been implemented since then.

Since 2004 In Paris, France the authorities bans cars from the Georges Pompidou Expressway along Paris’s Right Bank into the Paris Plage (Paris Beach) for one month every summer and converts it into a pedestrian refuge replete with a sandy beach, activities including dance lessons, climbing walls, games, and swimming (in floating pools), and amenities like beach chairs, cafes, misting fountains, and shady palm trees..

Village Homes in Davis, California is designed to allow car-free movement with an extensive system of pedestrian/bike paths, running through common areas that exhibit a variety of landscaping, garden areas, play structures, statuary, with most houses facing the common areas rather than the streets. The roads are all narrow, curving cul-de-sacs without sidewalks which give them the feel of village lanes; the few cars that venture into the cul-de-sacs usually travel slowly.

See also

Car-free resources




Further reading

  • Carfree Cities, Crawford, J. H., 2000, International Books, ISBN 978-9057270376
  • Car Sick: Solutions for Our Car-addicted Culture, Sloman, Lynn, 2006, Green Books, ISBN 978-1903998762
  • Divorce Your Car! Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile, Alvord, Katie, 2000, New Society Publishers, ISBN 0-86571-408-8
  • The Little Driver, Wagner, Martin, 2003, Pinter & Martin, ISBN 978-0-9530964-5-9

External links

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